A light, precisely observed novel.

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THE MAGIC OF ORDINARY DAYS

A YA author’s nicely written adult debut novel blends historical richness and a fine sense of place to tell the story of a woman’s developing love for her husband—and for his Colorado farmland—over the course of six months in 1944.

In wartime Denver, Olivia Dunne becomes pregnant after a one-night stand with a departing American soldier. With the help of a local church, her father arranges her marriage to Ray Singleton, a beet farmer in faraway La Junta. Olivia’s first days on the isolated farm are awkward, and Ray, a shy, reticent man of good intentions, isn’t very adept at small talk. Precluded from contributing anything useful to the running of the farm, whose harvests are cultivated in part by labor from the local internment camp, Olivia takes long solitary walks. During one of them she meets Rose and Lorelei Umahara, Japanese-Americans from California who have been evacuated to confinement in Colorado. Young, enthusiastic, and passionate about butterfly hunting, the sisters introduce Olivia to the thriving, emotionally rich life of the camp. She keeps her friendship with the girls secret; Ray, whose brother was killed at Pearl Harbor, displays no fondness for the Japanese who work his farm. Creel does a delightful job of evoking first the dreariness of the Singleton farm and Olivia’s unnerving loneliness, then the slow ripening of her affection for Ray, a simple but profoundly kind and gentle man. Rose and Lorelei, meanwhile, hint that they have begun dating a pair of American soldiers, and Olivia drives them to meet the men in secret. But the “soldiers” turn out to be German POWs escaping with the help of the sisters, who make Olivia an unwitting accomplice. The author gives her heroine a satisfying emotional depth, moving Olivia through phases of affection and disappointment with assured confidence before closing with a tranquil scene after the baby is born.

A light, precisely observed novel.

Pub Date: July 9, 2001

ISBN: 0-670-91027-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2001

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A promising debut that’s awake to emotional, political, and cultural tensions across time and continents.

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HOMEGOING

A novel of sharply drawn character studies immersed in more than 250 hard, transformative years in the African-American diaspora.

Gyasi’s debut novel opens in the mid-1700s in what is now Ghana, as tribal rivalries are exploited by British and Dutch colonists and slave traders. The daughter of one tribal leader marries a British man for financial expediency, then learns that the “castle” he governs is a holding dungeon for slaves. (When she asks what’s held there, she’s told “cargo.”) The narrative soon alternates chapters between the Ghanans and their American descendants up through the present day. On either side of the Atlantic, the tale is often one of racism, degradation, and loss: a slave on an Alabama plantation is whipped “until the blood on the ground is high enough to bathe a baby”; a freedman in Baltimore fears being sent back South with the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act; a Ghanan woman is driven mad from the abuse of a missionary and her husband’s injury in a tribal war; a woman in Harlem is increasingly distanced from (and then humiliated by) her husband, who passes as white. Gyasi is a deeply empathetic writer, and each of the novel’s 14 chapters is a savvy character portrait that reveals the impact of racism from multiple perspectives. It lacks the sweep that its premise implies, though: while the characters share a bloodline, and a gold-flecked stone appears throughout the book as a symbolic connector, the novel is more a well-made linked story collection than a complex epic. Yet Gyasi plainly has the talent to pull that off: “I will be my own nation,” one woman tells a British suitor early on, and the author understands both the necessity of that defiance and how hard it is to follow through on it.

A promising debut that’s awake to emotional, political, and cultural tensions across time and continents.

Pub Date: June 7, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-94713-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2016

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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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